Blood pulled my Shoe Off: The Birth of the Freestate in the Words of Máire Comerford

by Martina Evans

for Roy Foster

If bucked by your pony, make no fuss
get up again and again no matter how hurt
water and feed your pony before you eat yourself…
when there was an occasion for tears, I held them
until I got to a warm dark stable where I could
be nuzzled by a soft nose

My bicycle opened Ireland to me, our bicycles were the fastest things.

I wanted to visit the place where Shane O’Neill’s head was spiked
on the castle gate. I went up alone to spend Easter with Maud.
The following day I boarded the tram to Blackrock. Three hours
later I was in the middle of the Rising. 

Sometimes there was no steady walking. When the crowd ran,
I ran with it. Next morning in Harcourt Street, blood pulled
my shoe off. Keen to see if the tricolour was still flying,
I’d not noticed the big red pool until my foot was held in it.

get up again 

I saw a big hand across the people coming to swoop. I made a dive,
started to run, half-spancelled by a foolish, fashionable, tight skirt.
A milk car drove beside. I grabbed his dashboard, he whipped up
his pony, my legs barely able to keep my feet on the ground. 

Mother was pretending to be Michael Collin’s aunt and that
distracted me. Mother was distressed because he was a bad feeder,
hardly slept at all.  She made up two beds for him. Both would be
tossed in the morning. And Mother had her own troubles.

Another raid at night, uniformed Auxiliaries. I opened the door
in my nightgown, pushed backwards by the leader until my head hurt.
Pressed hard against the wall. He forced his revolver into my mouth.
My mouth full of steel. You’re the bad one of the family, he said. 

get up again 

Collins said we will work it out eventually just like South Africa
A stone rolled slowly at my heels in Irish Street, Enniscorthy.
And to hell with the Republic, shouted a group of budding Free Staters.
Very young ones. 

get up again 

I slipped away on my bike to the Four Courts…we were all too young.
Our belts were closed and our coats still buttoned as night fell. George
Plunkett came over several times to tuck a coat, his own, around my legs.
Countess Markievicz was positioned for sniping in her usual state,  rifle poised.
I admit to being somewhat repelled. I gave Con a meal and left. I would not have liked
to be lying on a roof trying to kill someone but this seemed to be what they were at.

The Freestate officer arranged the soldier’s rifle so it was pointed at the middle of my back. 

Make no fuss. 

After the Defeat, I was sent with a message for Eamon De Valera,
all over the county, going from place to place looking for him.
August 22, I delivered a despatch at dusk to a pasture field, County
Cork, gorse encroaching from hedges, more IRA men in arms than 

in the Four Courts. Did you know that Michael Collins was killed
down that road last night? I did not know anything in recent history
in Collins’ favour because death had been busy. No message from
any grave shouted Stop! I went on my way without joy or sorrow. 

Make no fuss. 

The North Dublin Union was a great barracks. The Freestate didn’t
know how to make a barbed wire entanglement, rigid barbed wire
stretched down the poles—a kind of ladder for us. No way I could
climb this wall to freedom without all this barbed wire to help me. 

My city comrades were reluctant but I was country bred. When
we were children if you couldn’t climb a fence someone threw
your hat across – if you didn’t come home with your hat
there would be hell to pay. 

get up again 

I only remained free for a month. In Nassau street, I was spotted.
Might have been my slouching country walk! Taken to Kilmainham.
Hunger strike once more. I would not eat until I was released, I said.
After twenty-seven days, I was carried out on a stretcher by four soldiers.

When you are down, you are down and it is extraordinarily difficult to rise again.
I was in poor form living on a hill in County Wexford, endeavouring
to run my own poultry farm. It was tight. What helped me survive?
I belonged to people who were able to run up bills. This past association
was very useful to me. For years I knew little about passing events, unable
to afford a newspaper. I had a motorbike, whenever I could scrape
fifteen shillings together I would drive from Gorey to Dublin. 

when there was an occasion for tears, I held them
until I got to a warm dark stable where I could
be nuzzled by a soft nose

This is one of ten poems commissioned by UCD Library, Poetry Ireland, and Arts Council Northern Ireland as part of Poetry as Commemoration, a two-year initiative supported by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, under the Decade of Centenaries 2012-2023 programme. The aim of Poetry as Commemoration is to encourage creative engagement with the material history of the Irish War of Independence & the Civil War.

This poem was inspired by the Papers of Máire Comerford held in UCD Archives –  MÁIRE COMERFORD PAPERS LA18  and On Dangerous Ground: A Memoir of the Irish Revolution by Máire Comerford (Lilliput Press, 2021)

It will be published in Grief’s Broken Brow, a limited fine press edition designed and produced by Jamie Murphy at The Salvage Press featuring original artwork by James EarleyGrief’s Broken Brow will be presented as a gift to 100 repositories providing a tangible record of the Decade of Centenaries and a legacy object for future generations. Poems are made available to the public via Poetry Jukeboxes, the Poetry as Commemoration website, and the Irish Poetry Reading Archive.